Crowdsourcing and Disinformation

Recently, TOPP Labs embarked on a joint venture with Transportation Alternatives to build a “Candidate Survey” website, showing New York users how their local political candidates responded to a TA survey.

TA is going to build the public-facing site, and TOPP is going to build a back-end service that does geographic lookup of candidates based on the user’s address. Our service will be publicly available for other uses too.  (If you’re paying attention to such things, you might wonder why we need a new service and don’t just use the Votesmart API or the Mobile Commons Legislative Lookup API. Well, MobileCommons only provides lookup of districts, not the candidates within those districts; and Votesmart has some info on local officials, but not unelected local candidates.)

The big sticky issue that’s come up is crowdsourcing the data. Some people at TOPP really want to make the candidate data editable by the public.

We’re not doing anything as critical as counting votes on this site, but recent elections have shown that disinformation is still a problem, whether perpetrated by pranksters or partisans. For example, there were several cases of bogus fliers just before the 2008 election.

I think a totally open system is too risky. Our demo of the back end service at is currently totally open; anonymous users have free reign to edit or delete information about candidates, or even add fictitious candidates (if you can figure out how; it’s not hard). It would be easy to deface TA’s website or anything else that used the service.

What’s the solution? Restricting access to some “trusted” users? Open editing with moderation by some “trusted” users? No user editing at all?

Comments welcome.

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